How to Prepare for Marriage to Ensure a Healthy Relationship

So you got engaged. Congrats! Now what? How do you prepare for marriage so that you’re more Victoria and David Beckham, less Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries? Despite what many Hollywood couples have taught us, marriage is a big deal!

The short answer to this question is this: talk about things. Everyone has different opinions on how a marriage should and shouldn’t function, so outlining the values and ideals that are most important for you and your partner should be your first step.

Take it from me, someone who’s already experience a failed marriage: it may not happen right away, but marriage does change a relationship. Before the wedding festivities, take the time to consider and discuss the areas of your lives that might evolve throughout your marriage. These simple conversations can help diffuse some tense situations in the future.

What Are The Basics

So what can you do to get ready for the life-long journey of love that we call marriage? Sit down with your partner and talk about what kind of a relationship you want to have, how you see yourself in 10, 20, even 30 years, and how you hope to respond to any future stress or strains to the marriage.​

Get it all out there. Discussing things now and getting it all out in the open will make it easier to react to tense situations that may occur later in life.

It’s important to be honest with your partner about what you think are the most important qualities of a successful marriage. Look at this list of attributes. Which appeal to you the most?

Communication, Honesty, Patience, Responsibility, Humor, Persistence, Commitment, Fidelity, Forgiveness, Selflessness, Empathy, Restraint, Teamwork, Gratitude, Fairness, Security

These are all qualities that you individual people can have and bring to a marriage, and they’re also essential attributes of a healthy marriage itself. Once you’ve narrowed down which of these are most valuable to you, ask your partner their thoughts and discuss the similarities and differences between your viewpoints.

How can Premarital Counseling Help?

A great tool for helping prepare for marriage is to attend premarital counseling. Many churches and pastors offer this service for their members, but many marriage therapists and counsellors will meet with engaged couples as well. The purpose of these sessions is to encourage participants to discuss things they otherwise may not have considered.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of counselling goes a long way towards improving communication within your marriage. Exchanging your views and expectations for marriage and attempting to develop conflict-resolution skills with a professional’s guidance can be extremely helpful. It’s also likely that those who seek guidance before marriage will be more likely to seek professional help when needed in the future.

How do you Prepare for Marriage Spiritually? As a Christian?

For spiritually-minded people, it’s important to be patient and pray before rushing into any relationship, but especially marriage. Just because you are of a certain age doesn’t mean you need to get married! It’s far more important to follow God’s guidance and find the right partner, the right marriage, and the right life.

Personal Spirituality

In my own experience, I’ve known many Christians who expected that once they were married their spouse would fill an emotional hole, that marriage would make them feel whole. Many of these marriages have since failed.

To prepare for marriage as a Christian you must study yourself intently and identify areas of your life that you need to work on personally – those are not your spouse’s responsibility! God must help you to work on yourself before you can work on maintaining a marriage.

As this article says, investing in your own spiritual growth is an important step towards preparing for marriage. Spending time in prayer, reading the Bible, and meeting with other like-minded religious people are methods God can use to strengthen your faith and to “mold your character.” A strong spiritual base for your own life will help to create a strong base for your marriage when you and Mr. or Miss Right are ready.

Counseling and Reading

Christian men and women are encouraged to only marry someone with the same biblical beliefs, as are people from many other religions across the globe. Having the same spiritual beliefs doesn’t guarantee you a foolproof marriage, though. Premarital counseling with your pastor, priest, or spiritual mentor is highly recommended, and reading books by other Christians can also be helpful.

Taken from this blog, this radio station’s list, and my own experience, here are a few of the most highly acclaimed books for Christians who are preparing for marriage:

  • The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage, by Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley
  • Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
  • What’s It Like to be Married to Me? by Linda Dillow
  • Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

How do you Prepare for Marriage As a Man?

Any random Google search will show you that most advice for couples on how to prepare for marriage is actually aimed at women. While I’m sure there are many men out there who are just as anxious as their female counterparts regarding what marriage will bring.

Personal Growth

It’s time to think out of the box. Although this piece by Dave Willis is intended for Christian men, many of its points ring true for the non-spiritual bachelor as well. To prepare for a healthy marriage, men should develop strong work ethics, learn to face responsibility, become financially focused, avoid becoming overly selfish, and act like a gentleman – even when you’re single!

It’s easy to see how being unselfish and acting like a gentleman can prepare you for marriage: relationships are a constant cycle of give-and-take, so preparing yourself to give as much as your partner needs is a healthy exercise. And although the idea of a “true gentleman” conjures up images of men holding doors open or carrying their spouse’s purse, a modern gentleman (Christian or otherwise) simply treats a woman with respect and as an equal.

You’ve heard it a million times and it’s true: marriage is hard work! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to draw the correlations between a man who has a cultivated a strong work ethic and who has a solid romantic relationship. There are many, many responsibilities associated with marriage and family too, and a man who knows how to work hard is a man who doesn’t shirk his duties.

What do Married Couples Fight About?

According to this piece from the Business Insider, three of the top ten things couples argue about are finances, sex, and parenting. There are obviously other issues that cause frustration and disagreements, but these are three that are easier to deal with if they’re fully discussed before the marriage even begins.

They Fight About Finances

This is often cited as the main reason why couples split. Whether or not this is statistically true, the fact that it’s considered “well known” is reason enough to prepare yourself financially before entering into a marriage, and also to keep a close eye on money issues throughout your relationship.

To start, ask yourself what your expectations are regarding bills and financial responsibilities. Are you what some consider “old fashioned” and you expect the man to bring home the bacon and provide for the family? Do you love your job and fully plan to climb the corporate ladder and increase your salary as much as possible? Or do you expect a completely equal split of the finances?

Joint vs. Personal Bank Accounts

In my own marriage, I always assumed that having one joint account where we both deposited every cent of both our paychecks was completely normal. All of our bills were paid with that account, all of our spending money came from that account, and all of ours savings were contained there too. (I obviously hadn’t had much financial education!) I figured that since all the money went into the same account, it didn’t matter who made more money, that my money was his money and vice versa.

This proved to be problematic, to put it mildly, and after our split I vowed that I would never again have a joint bank account with anyone. Perhaps that was a bit hasty. As Rob Carrick explains in this Globe and Mail article, a joint account is “the most sensible way to manage day-to-day spending and saving, and it will save you trouble if your spouse dies before you.” Huh. I bet you hadn’t thought about it that way before – I sure hadn’t.

Resentment and Independence

Such an open approach to finances makes some people feel a loss of independence, among other things. As Jeremy Vohwinkle from The Balance points out, feelings of resentment may rise if a joint bank account is being used to pay debts that were incurred pre-marriage. Also, having only one account can make things complicated if the couple ever separates, and I can personally attest to this!

This information shows that it is worthwhile to have financial discussions before entering into marriage: do either of you have personal debt that you’re bringing to the relationship? How do you plan to deal with these debts? Will either of you feel uncomfortable making personal purchases from the “family money”? How will you approach the subject of budgeting?

Bad Habits

You might think that if you’re honest about your personal debt and are open to sharing bank accounts, you’re set. But as this piece from Wealthsimple states, “money issues don’t go away because you have separate bank accounts.” Any previous bad financial habits can linger and cause irreparable damage. Discussing these habits with your spouse and realizing that your actions affect the both of you, joint accounts or not, is crucial.

The money talk is not a one-time thing either. When I moved in with my current partner, it took a long time before I was willing to discuss my finances with him. I was afraid to be honest about how little money I had and afraid that I would once again be required to get permission from someone else for every single purchase I made – not a healthy mindset! My partner and I now have regular talks about our finances (and we have separate accounts!) and it’s become much easier for me to share with him.

They Fight About Sex

I don’t think anyone goes into a marriage thinking that someday they’re going to want less or more sex; nobody actually expects to disagree about it! You’re never going to be one of “those” couples who have to schedule weekly “sex dates” because it otherwise wouldn’t happen. That’s crazy!

Sex and Intimacy – or Separateness

It does happen, though! It’s almost always listed as one of the top reasons couples fight. According to this blog post from Psychology Today, though, couples who fight about the frequency or infrequency of sex are really arguing about the differences between their needs for closeness, connection, autonomy, or separateness.

Given this information, it’s obvious that discussions about sex should be had before marriage. What does sex mean to you? Is it a form of intimacy for you or simply an act of physical pleasure? Talk about which positions or experiences you enjoy the most.

Talk About the What-ifs

This article from CNN goes so far as to suggest a pre-marriage discussion about hypothetical situations, like how you’ll deal with it if one partner’s sexual desires increase or decrease, or even what would happen if someone becomes paralyzed below the waist. A frequent complaint is that sex in a marriage goes kaput once children arrive, so talking about this before having kids is essential!

They Fight About Kids and Parenting

Obviously, a serious discussion needs to be had before marriage about whether or not you or your partner want to have a family. If you want kids but your partner doesn’t, or vice versa, you’ve got some serious thinking to do. Hopefully, you’ll both be on the same page regarding future children and you can then focus on other questions.

So You Want to Have Kids

If the consensus is that you both want to have a family, an important topic to then discuss is how the two of you will proceed if you have trouble conceiving. Will you consider adoption? What are your thoughts on fertility treatments?

Once these important issues have been talked through, there are still more issues to bring up. You should discuss when you’d like to have kids, how many you’d like to have, what kinds of childcare you’d prefer, how you’ll discipline the kids, etc.

A bit question that Jancee Dunn strongly suggests you bring up with your partner is whether or not religion will play a role in your children’s lives. Religion is a hot topic that people often feel strongly about.

Parenting Means Discussing

Really, having kids means that you’ll constantly be making decisions and having discussions about your family. What time should teenagers go to bed? Should you enroll your 5-year-old in public or private school? How much money will you contribute towards your daughter’s wedding? The truth is that you’ll never be finished talking about your kids!

When you’re sleep deprived and surrounded by the chaos of every day family life, realizing that you’re not on the same parenting page as your spouse can be shocking, infuriating, and depressing, all at the same time. Preparing for marriage by talking about what kind of a parent you want to be is the best solution to this situation.

Why do Couples Get Divorced?

The Huffington Post lists ten of the top reasons why couples split up:

Getting in for the wrong reasons, Lack of individual identity, Becoming lost in the roles, Not having a shared vision of success, The intimacy disappears, Unmet expectations, Finances, Being out of touch… literally, Different priorities and interests, Inability to resolve conflicts.

There’s an obvious theme throughout this list: communication problems. If you reason for getting married is something other than love, and if you’re not honest with yourself or your partner about this, the prognosis isn’t good.

If you don’t understand your partner’s need for intimacy before you get married, the chances are that you’ll never really understand it. Just as proper communication (and some good therapy!) can perhaps fix many of these issues, discussing these things before the wedding even happens gives you an even greater chance of living happily ever after.

Related Questions

How can I prepare my mind for marriage?

Marriage will be different than any relationship you’ve been a part of. As this post from HappyMarriages.com says, understanding your partner, considering their values, and learning to combine finances in order to run a household are all important ways you can prepare your mind for marriage.

What should be done before marriage?

Besides all the necessary wedding prep, it’s important for both men and women to learn financial independence, to foster friendships and relationships with others, and to learn to love yourself before you can love a spouse. According to Brides.com, it’s also important to have one big fight with your fiancé before the big day!

How long should you date before getting engaged?

The answer to this question varies with every couple. Some people wait years before tying the knot and still end up in divorce court. Others rush to the altar after only a few days or weeks and manage to stick it out for a lifetime. While there is no one-answer-fits-all, in this piece from The Knot, a psychotherapist admits that one to two years of dating is often appropriate before getting engaged.

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